NRL Power Rankings: Round 4
There's a big gap between last year's grand finalists and the rest of the competition but the Eels, Sharks and Bulldogs made a big impression in Round 4 as the Titans continue to surprise their critics.
1. Broncos (Last week: 2)
It doesn't quite make up for a grand final defeat but Brisbane's golden-point win in a genuine classic against North Queensland on Friday night suggests the Broncos are deserved front-runners in 2016. Anthony Milford has jumped to a new level this season and is arguably the form player in the game.
2. Cowboys (1)
A fairer ranking would be equal first considering how close they went to pipping the Broncos on Friday night – away from home – but the gap between the two Queensland giants and the rest of the competition is a big one at this stage of the competition. Nobody would be surprised if we get another Cowboys-Broncos decider this October.
3. Eels (4)
Sure it looks like we've got Parramatta high on our list but a month into the season they boast the best defensive record in the NRL and with one of the most potent backlines in the league there is much more to come in attack. They've conceded just one try in the past fortnight and beat the reigning premiers the week before that.
4. Sharks (5)
Cronulla beat Melbourne on Monday night to leap past the Storm in our rankings and like Parramatta have managed to get their new recruits clicking early in the season. Again, like Parramatta, their defence has been the key – they rank second in the league in defence, while the off-season's other big recruiters Manly and the Warriors both sit in the bottom four for that stat.
5. Storm (3)
Melbourne would have been disappointed with their loss in Cronulla and are suddenly struggling for depth in the outside backs after teenager Curtis Scott joined Billy Slater, Cheyse Blair and Jeremy Hawkins on the sidelines, with Marika Koroibete facing a possible suspension as well. Three home games in the next month (against the Knights, Bulldogs and Warriors) should help them get back on track.
6. Bulldogs (8)
The Dogs produced their best display of the year, smashing a Sam Burgess-less Rabbitohs side on Good Friday. When they're good they're very good, with James Graham outperforming the entire Souths pack in terms of metres gained and Moses Mbye becoming a genuine star this year in the halves.
7. Rabbitohs (6)
They've got the best attacking record in the league so far in 2016 but were simply outclassed against the Bulldogs without their English talisman leading the way up front. Thursday's clash with Manly looms as an early crunch game after back-to-back defeats, with memories of their early thrashings of the struggling Roosters and Knights fading fast.
8. Raiders (7)
Canberra have done very well without both their first-choice halves so far this year but they would have loved an experienced playmaker to close out the game on Saturday when they somehow blew an 16-0 lead at home to the Titans – a week after failing to beat a ragged Newcastle team.
9. Sea Eagles (9)
Manly got out of jail to pip the injury-ravaged Roosters on Saturday night but lost their own star halfback in the process, with Daly Cherry-Evans set to miss a month. DCE's absence will bring a new test for Trent Barrett's men, with his kicking game in particular hard to replace.
10. Titans (13)
Considered among the front-runners for the wooden spoon at the start of the season the Gold Coast have now won three of their first four, sitting above teams like the Cowboys and Sharks on the NRL ladder. It's hard to see them staying inside the top four for too long but they're certainly exceeding expectations so far.
11. Dragons (11)
The Dragons are getting used to tight contests this year, with three games being decided by just two points (separated by a 28-point mauling at the hands of the Sharks). They've grinded their way to victories in the last two, with Josh Dugan coming up with the match-winner, but will need to step up a level against the Cowboys in Townsville this weekend.
12. Wests Tigers (10)
After producing some razzle-dazzle footy in the opening rounds the Tigers became just the second team to be held to nil in a game this season, beaten 8-zip by the Eels a week after the Cowboys shut out the hapless Roosters. Robbie Farah returned off the bench but is likely to get more game time in the coming weeks.
13. Panthers (12)
The game was there for the taking against St George Illawarra but instead the Panthers suffered another close defeat. They've proven they can match anyone – their one win this season came against the Broncos – but need to find the knack for winning more of the close ones if they are to be a finals contender this season.
14. Warriors (14)
A win at last! The Warriors finally ended an NRL losing streak that stretches back to last July when they turned a 12-all half-time scoreline against Newcastle into a comfortable 40-18 victory. It's not enough to lift them up from 14th in our rankings but it lifts some of the pressure off coach Andrew McFadden for now.
15. Roosters (15)
If not for a very tight offside call to deny what could have been a match-winning try the Roosters would be celebrating their first win of the season, but instead they are 0-4 a month into the campaign after a narrow loss to Manly. At full strength Trent Robinson's men should still be contenders at the business end of the season – their big test though will be racking up enough wins by then to make the eight.
16. Knights (16)
Newcastle hung in there for the first half against the Warriors in Auckland but the New Zealanders' class and experience shone through in the second term, extending the Knights' winless start to the season. It won't get easier in this week's trip to Melbourne but they'll be eying off a victory against the beatable Tigers at Hunter Stadium the following round.